Old-school, what does this mean to you as a gamer? Does it mean inferior graphics, simple midi music, innocence, simplistic game control, or was it the need to strive in order to survive. I think that many people who are non-gamers look back at old-school gaming and automatically assume that simplistic controls equals easy. However, enthusiast gamers know better than that, we remember the days of learning every single element of a game, because it was just the only way to survive. When I picked up my copy of the Dark Spire, I pretty much knew what to expect, old-school gameplay combined with old-school graphics and aesthetics. What I didn’t expect was how The Dark Spire would change me as a gamer, it wasn’t just the splash of nostalgia that this game conveys but it reawakened the need to strive, the need to survive, and the need to become fully involved and become one with the game in order to even advance.
The Dark Spire is an old-school RPG in the vein of Wizardry or Shadowgate. A first-person dungeon crawler with a reckless difficulty, and the fear of death is a constant feeling, no one is ever safe. You create a party of four characters that you comprise via name creation, race, alignment, class option, and stat rolls. The characters that you create are never seen and there are no graphical representations of what a mage or a warrior looks like.
The Dark Spire is a game that greatly relies on the player’s imagination. However, there are some portraits for the shop and inn keepers, basically just enough to establish a world. Artwork in The Dark Spire is very good despite the lack of graphical representation; it reminds me of the Hellboy comic books. As I explored the tower, I noticed that the environments invoked a feeling for the dark and the macabre that to me, felt very fresh. This was a world that I could sink my teeth into. The soundtrack to the Dark Spire is also very good and perpetuates a dark feeling intermixed with a bizarre electronic-synth that as a whole is both slightly disturbing, as well as sounding like an old AD&D computer game creating a vintage air if you will.
The story in this game is so small and insignificant that it would be best to just leave that for the full-colored instruction booklet, but it does involve a dark spire. Now, as for the gameplay, this is the part of The Dark Spire that shines the most in my opinion. As you travel within the spire you will encounter random enemy parties, and I do mean random, for you could travel fifty steeps without ever encountering the enemy but sometimes two battles can also happen within only two steps. You pick your attacks, spells, items, etc. however; the battle system goes even deeper than that. Within the attack option itself there will be different types of attacks, for example, do you perform a quick attack, a powerful attack, or a precision attack? This will affect your speed, power, and accuracy in each attack cycle.
By the way, this game is incredibly difficult. You begin the game with such low stats that you could very well get killed off by the very first enemy party that you face. As you play the game even farther, you will never get the upper hand, even if you level grind all day long, you could run into a bad situation that would end up in a game over screen.
Leveling up in the Dark Spire is a little different then in most modern Role Playing Games, and it is to my liking. The game will not auto-level up your characters but instead leave that as a conscience player decision. The experience points that you accumulate via killing monsters acts as a form of currency that you use to shape and mold your characters to your satisfaction. You can increase your maximum hit points by leveling up or you can increase the sum of you stats such as strength and charisma. This way of leveling up brings with it a new found sense of freedom that most console RPGs greatly lack.
I do, however, have a gripe about the game. The leveling-up process is too cheap, for instance, if you level up a character and you have the probability of gaining one to eight hit points the game will more than likely give you either one or two hit points. I don’t know how many times that I would reset my DS in order to gain a decent amount of hit points per level increase. It’s almost as if the game cheats you, but at the same time via game resets you could (and will) cheat back. Sometimes I wonder if this was a conscience design choice from the developer as a way to force the player to think outside of the box. As an added bonus, you can play the Dark Spire with just vector graphics, making the game even more archaic then before, very cool addition indeed.
Let it be known, The Dark Spire is not for everybody, even for those claming to be elite RPG gamers. However, if you seek a very deep and rewarding game of a higher difficultly caliber then I would say don’t hesitate and pick this up as soon as you can. I would like to thank the developer Success and the publisher Atlus for bringing out such a deep and captivating gameplay experience.